I’ve been re-reading Stephen R. Donaldson’s books the last few days. While reading “The One Tree” the main character in the story said something that made me think.
“I guess the question is, are you a person-with volition and maybe some stubbornness and at least the capacity if not the actual determination to do something surprising-or are you a tool?
A tool just serves its user. It’s only as good as the skill of its user, and it’s not good for anything else.
So if you want to accomplish something special-something more than you can do for yourself-you can’t use a tool. You have to use a person and hope the surprises will work in your favor. You have to use something that’s free to not be what you had in mind.
That’s what it comes down to on both sides.
The Creator wants to stop Foul. Foul wants to break the Arch of Time. But neither of them can use a tool, because a tool is just an extension of who they are, and if they could get what they wanted that way they wouldn’t need anything else. So they’re both trying to use us.
The only difference I can see is that the Creator doesn’t manipulate. He just chooses and then takes his chances. But Foul is something else. How free are we?”
If you think about it this is actually very profound.
This is a direct quote to the book so there are references to other things in the story. You don’t really need them though to think about the idea presented here.
Let’s say that you are the creator/god/source of all things etc. and you wanted something specific done. You can either do it yourself directly, do it indirectly, or do nothing and hope for the best. These really are your only options at least as far as I can see.
Doing something directly and doing nothing are pretty obvious but doing it indirectly is where people come into the equation. What can you do here?
You can use a tool. Like a hammer or a screwdriver you just grab the person you want and say hey go do this. There’s no real thought involved for the tool. It just does what it’s told. To a hammer everything looks like a nail.
A tool is only useful doing the things it was designed for. For instance a flashlight is only really useful in the dark. If you are creative enough you can find other uses for it but you are limited by its basic design.
You can also use a person who thinks for himself. Have you read the book Enders Game? In that story there was a war in space war between humans and aliens. The aliens were kind of a hive mind with a queen so all their ships acted as if they were like a hand or a foot. Each ship was controlled by a single intelligence so it could only think one thing at a time. Now for the humans each ship was controlled by a person so each ship could act and think for itself. There were many intelligences all working together for a common goal.
The downside is that when you use a person that thinks for himself you are taking the risk that the person won’t do what you are wanting. That the person will go off on some tangent or do something totally messed up or off the wall. That person might even decide to do the total opposite of what you are wanting. This is free will.
It’s necessary though. A tool is only as good as the person that uses it. If you could do whatever it is you are wanting to do with a tool then you wouldn’t need the tool to begin with because you can basically do anything already. But if you wanted to do something really special you would need to use something with an independent intelligence. Something that can think for itself, be brave or foolish, be willing to sacrifice, love or a host of other human qualities.
We are not tools.
Stephen R. Donaldson is an excellent writer. If you haven’t read his work yet then you should. Here is a link over at amazon to the first book in the series titled, “Lord Foul’s Bane.” Before you ask no this is a clean link to the amazon page. I don’t get anything out of someone visiting amazon but if you pick up this book I think that you might.
He also has an official website that has a lot of information about all of his books. You can even read transcripts of some of his early interviews. Excellent stuff for any fan of his work. His website can be found over here: